Thursday, March 5, 2015

Hope Valley, California in February

February 28, 2015

Sorensen's Resort, Hope Valley, CA

Near the middle of January, it became apparent to me that I was no longer willing to work for my previous employer. There is an every widening gap between my business ethics and philosophy and that of the people who wrote my check. That gap created a conflict of interest leading to stress gnaweing away at my emotional and physical health. In frustration, I threw out a couple of resumes, having no idea how long it would take to get a new job. 

Luckily, for me, there was a fish looking for just what I was casting, and I had an offer in just a few days. I needed to give notice to my boss that I was leaving, and when I was up in the mountains (just breathing), I stopped at Sorensen's to see what was for lunch. I picked up a flyer for a photography workshop that only cost $75 and was run by Terry Nathan, a photography educator at UC Davis. It was on Saturday, the 28th of February, a day I was scheduled to work.

Well, that steeled my resolve. I had to give my notice the next day, as it was the 12th.  If I gave a 14 day notice on the 13th, my last day would be the 27th. With Saturday cleared I could attend my first artistic workshop. 

It was a perfect Winter day in the Sierras. Little or no wind, passing snow showers, heavy clouds, and high 20's for temp. Terry was an excellent teacher, I suppose because he is a teacher. For seventy five bucks, I got a great morning of instruction and came away with a better understanding of how to compose, or design, a photograph. One thing that really sticks out to me was a comparison he made of photography to painting. A painter starts with a blank canvas, and only adds what it is necessary to tell the story. A photographer starts with a canvas filled with extraneous elements that need to be eliminated so that the story can be revealed. 

We started out in a meadow strewn with boulders. The first inclination I often have is to throw that wide angle zoom to its widest setting, but in a location like this, trying to get it all in will just add to the number of distracting elements. Terry helped my think about framing, selection, and focal length as ways to subtract from the image. 

Perhaps my strongest image from the day. We were assigned to find compositions that had framing, good light, and/or foreground to background depth. This one has all three.

I'm pretty pleased with this one as well. I like the scale that Granite (a workshop participant) gives to the rock field.

After a while, we started to wander further afield. My eye, and then the rest of me, gravitated to an area of the meadow that was fairly empty except for the Carson River and some willows. The snow helped isolate the great shapes and gave depth to the landscape.

This is a very simple image of the river. It's meant to instill a feeling of peace and harmony. The golden mean is the secret to creating art that imparts these emotions.

Terry then brought us to an area that just has a few sections of old fence and barbed wire to work specifically on framing and details. I struggle with these concepts and even as I was making some of these images I thought to myself "this is all just too obvious and cliche". Yet, when I see the images I feel that these are some of the best "detail" images I've created and hopefully will get me on the right track.
Framing. Light. Depth.

I struggled with this image forever. It makes me think - "almost".

Another image I really like. I think it tells a story.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Signs of Autumn at 8000'

Katie, Polly, and I had a beautiful day up in the Sierras on Saturday. We started out with a late lunch an Sorenson's Resort, and then continued up into Carson Pass, exploring US Forest roads. This was a digital day for me, using my Fuji XE2 and a Fuji 10-24mm lens. By all accounts, this lens is one of the finest ultra wide lenses ever made. I have no idea if that is true since I have nothing to compare it to, but so far I am extremely happy with it. I've collected a humongous pile of undeveloped film, so I'm not going to shoot anymore until I get the rolls I already have developed. Since we're moving in a few weeks, nothing is expected to happen in that arena. 

The one thing that has really impressed me with the Fuji is the ability to pull highlights and shadows out of the RAW files. The JPEG files had white skies and very little shadow detail. Looking at the LCD screen while I was shooting made me consider shooting multiple exposures and blending them. But I'm lazy when it comes to post processing so I knew I'd never actually get there. Instead I just used Lightroom to pull back the highlights and boost the shadows and I've got incredible dynamic range with detail on both sides. 

That does leave a little bit of a flat looking file, so after running the adjusted RAW file through Nik Define to remove any noise, I pop the file over to Photoshop to do a contrast boost and selective toning. I wish I didn't have to use photoshop, but I use luminosity masks for my contrast and color work and I like to do selective sharpening using layers. The end results are photos that have the range of a blended HDR file but are more natural looking. Also less artifacts from blending multiple exposures are evident when doing 30-400 second exposures.

Even though long exposure times weren't needed for the color photographs, I used a 6 stop filter to expand exposure times out to 30 seconds so I could add my secret glow technique (hot breath on the lens for the last 5 seconds of exposure) to give the pics a dreamy appearance. Of course, that can be done post with the digital files, but I like to keep my workflow as similar as possible with film and digital.  Their is some weirdness in the sky on these photos. I "forgot" to take off the polarizer and polarizers don't work when shooting at 12mm and there is sky in the picture.

Seconds before the sun slipped under the mountain ridge to the west. I find long exposures with the HiTech IRND filters increase saturation and my 6 stop adds just a slight magenta color cast. The color cast would be easy to remove, but why bother? Me likey. 

I'm now in shadow, but the sun is still just catching the tips of the pines across the lake. The lens was at about  12mm and I was only about 12' away from the upright tree. That tree was 18-20' tall. That's wide. Wide angle is like crack. When I shoot with 16 stops of ND, I use an 85mm slide in filter holder that vignettes at anything over 16mm or so. I can find plenty of comps that work lovely when I can only go 16mm that work. However, as soon as the filter holder comes off, suddenly all the comps I find only work at 10-12mm.

Really, this is the same shot as above, just a couple steps back and a lower perspective. I prefer this comp to the other in all respects except the tree is cut off. I also exposed differently. Since the sky is not as prominent in this picture I didn't worry about not blowing it out, but as you can see, I probably over exposed about 2/3 of a stop here. With Astia film, I would have had to use a ND grad filter of 2 stops on the sky which would have made the top of the branch go dark, but it seems the X-Trans sensor of the Fuji camera has at least 50% more latitude than slide film. With slide film I figure I can go about +2 to -2 from the middle zone of the exposure and retain good detail . With the Fuji XE2 I can go about +1 1/2 to -4, so I'm learning I should underexpose just a hair for shots with wide dynamic range.

We also found a little waterfall on the backside of Blue Lake, CA that I've never seen in guidebooks or maps. It's so much fun to go on these excursions with Kathryn. She is such an adventurer and climber. She did shy away from the lake with the "Leech Alert" however. 

I rarely like black and white digital, except what I've seen from 16 bit MF cameras and the Leica Monocrom. This picture really pushed me. I just kept thinking about an interview I read with Rolfe Horn. Rolfe prints for Michael Kenna and himself and talked about just how much darkroom manipulation goes into an excellent photographic print. So when I'm shooting black and white film, I expose and develop for a flat file, knowing I'll adjust digitally later, much the same as fine print makers will use different grade papers, filters, and dodging & burning. I did the same digitally here and I am happy with the results. The above photograph accurately represents the vision I had when I took it.
Here is what a "flat" negative might look like after a little contrast enhancement, but no dodging or burning. I ran out of steam doing the first photo. I also just wasn't as happy with the composition as the first and am not sure if it merits the extra work. It's very "been there, done that" and white it's technically a good exposure, it's not very unique.

It's hard to judge scale without a familiar object in the scene. I'd say the lower triple falls were each about 10 feet tall and the upper falls were about 12-15 feet tall. Every thing in the picture was a ruddy brown color with the exception of a few bushes. The trees, shrubs and rocks all blended together. Horrible stuff in color, even though it was quite lovely in real life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mamiya AFd II and Fuji Astia 100f

The Mamiya AFd II is a camera I want to love. I'm just not sure if I'll ever get to that point in the relationship. It is an old, big, and noisy hunk of metal and plastic that is capable of producing outstanding pictures. To my taste, Mamiya produces the finest medium format optics. Fuji, Ziess, and Schneider just don't do it for me like the Mamiya glass does. Combined with a fine grain film, Mamiya glass renders the world in an ethereal sharp but soft light. I love doing long exposures where I breathe on the lens with a few seconds left to add a little glow. 

So why aren't I enamored with this camera. Mostly, because I own the RZ67 and RB67. They have spoiled me with unparalleled image quality. If I'm going to carry around a 10 pound camera, I darn well better get world class results.  I've owned a Hasselblad 500c, and the AFd II just doesn't have the same feeling. That precise confident exactness of meticulous attention to detail and dedication to craft that those Swedes are known for. The AFd is somewhere in between. A big, fairly well made, camera that makes really great pictures. 

I specifically bought the AFd II because I wanted a digital medium format upgrade path. The AFd II offers that . Of course I knew it was electronic and required batteries and had MENUS (blech!). These are things I generally try to avoid in my cameras, but I'm dreadfully covetous of a P45+ digital back. I dream of hour long digital captures without noise.  However, I want to keep film in my workflow and being a landscape shooter who uses wide angles, I'm fairly limited in my choices. This camera is one of the few available, and it is definitely the least expensive way to go. The other choices are Contax, Rollei/Sinar, and Hasselblad systems. The bodies are roughly the same price for the various systems, but the other lenses are multiples of ten more expensive than the Mamiya (and I like the Mamiya lenses).

I'll keep running film through the AFd II and see if our relationship moves on to the next level. Perhaps, like in an arranged marriage, we will eventually develop a deep and satisfying love. And then again, maybe we part ways, remaining friends and remembering the good times we had. Hopefully, it doesn't end in a tempest of fury where one of us ends up hurt and broken. While I'm pretty sure I won't be the one laying in pieces on the sidewalk after being drop kicked in frustration, not being able to recoup my investment would put a damper on my photographic purchases for a while.

River bottom near our home.  Mamiya 45mm manual focus lens. Smallish aperture for increased DOF. Long exposure of many seconds. This was minutes after the sun had set. "Hot Breath" treatment at the end of the exposure.

Little creek running into Lake Tahoe. Mamiya 55mm AF lens. 30ish second exposure, probably around f/11.

Spontaneous capture of a couple of dudes having a rock skipping contest. 

Compare to picture above. This one has a 6 stop filter to remove detail from the water and sky. You can see the vignette caused by the filter holder. The camera was much lower to include the foreground rocks and focus was on the biggest rock. The Mamiya 45mm manual focus lens is extremely sharp. and provides a really pleasing mix of contrast and color.

Clearing storm over Lake Tahoe. I really like 30-45 second exposures of rough water. There is still texture and vitality to the scene, where a 2 minute exposure usually removes any movement and renders a more serene and soothing picture.

All the pictures were taken with Fuji Astia 100f slide film or Portra 160VC. Both have been out of production for a number of years and my film is all expired since 2006-2010. I love these emulsions and have begun hoarding on eBay. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

CPAC Soccer Game

I was finally able to attend a soccer game and watch Kathryn play. It was so much fun to watch Kathryn and the other girls play so aggressively. They have completely dominated the first two games, outscoring their opponents 9-1. I was surprised on how big the pitch was. Those girls were running! Kathryn is playing on a U-11 team. About half the girls are playing up from younger age groups because our club is brand new and just starting out. Watching the younger girls play tough on (sometimes much) bigger girls was inspiring. 

The team's coach, Ian Hill, is really quite different from other youth sports coaches. He coaches with Love. Sounds corny, right? It's not touchy-feely namby-pamby stuff. He is teaching the girls accountability to your teammates, coaches, and parents because you love them. He makes them run at practice until its uncomfortable (maybe even some tears) because he wants them to know what it feels like in a game to keep going when you think you can't run anymore. 

After each game and practice there is a 15-20 minute talk when each girl is praised with specifics from that game and then the girls have an opportunity to speak of the positive things they saw from their teammates. The girls have already formed a really tight bond after only a few weeks. It relates to a teamwork during the games that just blows the other teams away. 

Parents have also been coached. He is very strict about parents "coaching" from the sidelines. We are given instructions on how to cheer on the girls without interfering with his instructions. Before the game and scrimmages, we are reminded of how cheering has a psychological effect on the players, and they play harder and better when the cheering is enthusiastic. 
Before the game


No way, Girl. You will be SMOTHERED.

Coming in

Midfield Attacker sounds so cool

Here comes the cross pass. I got so excited I stopped taking pictures. A hard shot and an amazing save. Next time Katie.

Winning the ball is a constant coaching point. The girls were so strong against the All Blonde Swedish Amazon team

A pass to Haley for a score!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Spooner Lake Sunrise

"I am losing precious days, I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news"

-John Muir

I need to get some sun on my face. How sad that this is true, so I am out the door in a moment to go hobble about so Nature can touch my face, but before I go.....

These were from an exercise of composition using my Hasselblad and Fuji Astia 100f film. The Hasselblad shoots in a square format and Spooner Lake State Park has a large meadow dotted with clumps of bushes, pines, and willows. It is also crisscrossed with little brooklets and each low spot is a gathering place for cold mountain runoff. There was a lot of texture and layers to be explored in both the earth and the sky! What a glorious sunrise.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Studio and Landscape - Are they the same?

Working in the Studio (Garage) and in the Landscape

First a note about my absence from this blog: 
I have spent the last year trying to figure out the best way to express and display my hobby to an online audience. I've tried Flickr, Facebook, Viewbug, Smugmug, Intagram.... The list goes on. What I've finally decided is that the only way to completely control the look, quality, and content of what I produce, is to do it on my own blog and website. I've owned the website domain for almost 4 years and have never done anything with it, but perhaps soon. Now, on to the blog post.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with my camera. I love photography for it's own sake, but I've always wanted to do more. I like all aspects of the craft except floundering around in stupid menus on digital cameras. If people find out I take pictures, they often ask if I am a landscape photographer or a studio photographer. Until recently, I would have automatically replied that I was a landscape photographer. But lately, I've really been enjoying the idea of having more opportunities to produce images that I completely control. 

In the landscape, I can control most of what you see. The following series of images was pre visualized and many of the factors came together just as I hoped and mostly I'm pleased with the results. 

The first three were taken on the same day, but the fourth was taken the next day and used a different film. It has a slightly different look. I did my best, but it is not exactly the same. I wanted a series of four, I got a series of three and one other nice picture. That is because in the landscape, I can control the variables within reason. I can not however create them. I have to live with the light as it is. If that creek would look better if it snaked back around to the left, too bad.

In the studio, everything is an illusion that I create from scratch. It is a lot more frustrating to fail at getting what you want in the studio because there is no one to blame but you. It also means that when you get it right, it is a lot more satisfying.

Below is a photo that helped me realize how hard this kind of photography can be. I wanted to take a picture that really conveyed how great everything look and the wonderful decorating that Polly did for Katie's party. When I took a picture of the table as it was set up, it looked terrible, even though it looked so cute to the eye. To get the image on camera to match the feeling of the party, I had to take all the stuff on the table and jam it together in the middle and leave most of the table empty. In real life, it looked stupid that way, but the picture of the jammed up party favors and treats shows how it actually felt when the table was set properly.

What you see in a picture is an illusion of what the photographer wants you to feel!

Creating from nothing also lets me have the simple compositions I look for, but often fail to find, or worse, fail to convey when I'm working on landscapes.

I don't apply heavy editing to landscape photos, but studio photos give the freedom to stretch my imagination

Do you know what these are? 

One thing that I do know, is that I will always need the mountains, the lakes and rivers, the pines, and the freedom of wide open spaces. So while studio work may give me a great creative outlet and ability to showcase more that a knack for being at the right place at the right time, there is little doubt I will continue to work on my landscapes. Maybe now, though, some of those landscapes will be created on a 2'x2' tabletop in my garage.